MERRILLVILLE | This one is going to take a long time to sort out when leafing through the Merrillville football record book.
The Times No. 3 Pirates played a perfect first half Friday night against Valparaiso, scoring on all eight of its possessions on its way to an eventual 66-41 Duneland Athletic Conference victory.
Merrillville (6-1, 5-0 DAC) was unstoppable before the half, cruising to 627 yards of offense. The Pirates scored four touchdowns in both quarters.
First, senior running back Dylon Collins was virtually untouchable. He carried just nine times in the first half, but he totaled 266 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns.
The first score of the game was a Collins five-yard TD at 10:15 of the first quarter. He set that up himself with a 37-yard run the first time he touched the ball, and the TD capped a six-play, 80-yard drive.
It would be Merrillville's longest scoring drive of the half.
Collins added TD runs of 93 and 90 yards. His first-half average per rush was 29.5 yards. He finished the game with a school-record 303 yards on 15 carries with four touchdowns.
His running opened up the passing game for quarterback Jake Raspopovich.
The senior was given all the time in the world to sit in the pocket and find his speedy trio of receivers. In the first half alone, Raspopovich completed 11 of 13 passes for 270 yards with four touchdowns.
His first TD toss was a 22-yarder to Cleveland Lomax. He added a 55-yarder to Brian Jenkins, who had four catches for 55 yards in the first half.
Joey Cowser got in on the act with a two-yard TD reception, the last of a three-play drive that was set up by a 61-yard kickoff return by Aaron Dye.
Dye had five catches for 159 yards in the first half, with his touchdown coming on a 75-yarder.
As efficient as the Pirates were offensively, the Vikings got in the act starting in the second quarter and didn't give up after the break.
Andrew Kittridge scored Valpo's first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter on a 3-yard run.
Stephen Simms later added the first of his four touchdowns on a 74-yard pass from David Hittinger.
Simms added two more TD receptions of 15 yards on the last play of the half to get the Vikings within 56-20, and later a 28-yarder in which he eluded several Merrillville defenders along the sideline.
Simms' fourth TD was a 44-yard run up the middle and cut the Pirates' lead to 56-34 at 5:55 of the third quarter.
For Merrillville, Collins added a fourth rushing touchdown in the third quarter from five yards out.
The Pirates' Matt Warren kicked a 41-yard field goal with 9:33 remaining in the third, to go along with a school-record nine PATs.
Valpo's Kittridge scored his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard plunge late in the game to get the score within 66-41. The Pirates put their second stringers in to finish off the game at that point with four minutes remaining.